21 February 2012

#98: Broken Social Scene - Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl

Broken Social Scene - Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl
from You Forgot It in People, 2002

During my first year in graduate school, I lived alone in a 500 square foot basement apartment down at the end of Pinckney Street in Madison. It had, among other features, a mostly obstructed view of Lake Mendota and the narrowest galley kitchen ever built. I had just moved away (about 165 miles up on Highway 151) from the first girl I'd ever really loved, exchanging her company for a ever-ending reading list of books and a set of classes that made almost no sense and in which I felt constantly inadequate. It was the first time in my life I'd ever really lived along (because, let's face it--Kim moved in to my apartment at Coe in early October the year before and never really left), and even though Madison wan't a big city in any real sense, it was all fairly overwhelming for me.

Aside from the school work and the long separation from Kim (punctuated by her semester in Madagascar), there are two memories from that year that really stick out in mind, 9 years later. The first is the slow transformation of Madison in my mind's eye, from of the scene the half-remembered and frantic visits I made as a high schooler during trips for various academic events into the place I ACTUALLY LIVED. That record store on State Street that I remembered in a glassy haze, like a fuzzy photo print, and the Jane's Addiction record Jed Dawson bought there right before we had to get back on the bus in 1996? I walked past that place on my way to school now. Everyday, my walk to work brought me past places I had dreamed about visiting for months at a time while I was in high school. The record stores were a constant distraction, and I let my guard down an awful lot that first year.

B-Side Records, Madison, Wisconsin

The other is less concrete, but no less important to me. I remember the way that the sun would come in off the lake on Saturday and Sunday afternoons in my apartment, catching me pacing the living room with a book in my hand, or sitting cross-legged on the scuffed wood floors next to my old mini stereo, shuffling CDs I bought down at the B-Side or the (late, lamented) Sugar Shack. This was the last year of my life when I had regular, easy access to both a dual cassette deck and a steady supply of cassettes, and I made the last real, honest-to-god mixtapes of my life on that floor in that apartment, taking all the new songs and albums from my time in the (not so big) city, shuffling them up, and sending them back on to Kim, 15 or 16 at a time.

The best mixtape I made that fall featured a fuzzy, druggy, and incredibly precious song from Broken Social Scene's second record called (somewhat awkwardly, like almost everything related to the band's early iteration) "Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl." In her distorted, pitchy singsong, Emily Haines came through loud and clear, telling the boy exactly what she wanted from him:
Park that car, drop that phone,
Sleep on the floor, dream about me

Emily Haines

Along with the song's slow, sunny, banjo-laden crescendo, it was Haines' repetition of those simple phrases--over and over, like a mantra for warding off distracted lovers--that attracted me so strongly. Getting used to Madison, and school, and the rest of my life while keeping up the first real long-distance relationship I'd ever been in, my nightly talks with Kim were full of distraction. Work, and long walks, and more work, and the bars all beckoned for me (as did friends and college life for her), and as the months went by, we became short with each other over the phone, trying and mostly failing to keep up the easy intimacy we'd forged at Coe.

My mixtapes, and this song in particular, were like my own promises to her that at some point, no matter what else happened, I'd be able to give her my full attention--with occasional visits ("park that car, sleep on the floor"), but also with a real life together without those phone calls and distraction and distance, some day.  Despite almost 5 years of marriage, we're still working on the proximity thing.  But when I hear this song, I still think of that apartment, Madison, those phone calls, and those mixtapes.  And I still dream about her.


No comments: